Jainism is the smallest major Indian religious, with about 4 million adherents. Nonetheless, they have a notable impact on the world around us. Join with me in discussing Jainism.

By Mark D. Harris

As the Babylonians crashed through the walls of Jerusalem and the sun set on the Israelite monarchy (586 BC), Lao-tzu (604-521 BC) assembled the set of concepts known as Taoism in China, and the Classical Age (510-320 BC) stirred in Greece. Soon, Siddartha Gautama (560-480 BC) would introduce Buddhism from northeast India (modern Nepal). Farther south and west, another religion emerged from the mists of Indian spirituality, Jainism.


Jains claim that Jainism was founded 8.4 million years ago. Vardhamana (Mahavira, 599-527 BC) was a prince who, as legend has it, left his palace at age 30 to begin 12 years of rigorous asceticism. He achieved perfect enlightenment, attracted many followers, and starved himself to death at age 72. Emperor Ashoka (273-232 BC), grandson of Chandragupta (350-295 BC), led the Mauryan Empire and followed the Jain faith. As a tiny fish swimming in a Hindu (and to a lesser extent, Buddhist) pool, Jainism did not play a prominent role in ancient Indian history.

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Hinduism - Aryan migrations

Hinduism is the third largest religion on earth. It is the faith of the most populous and fastest growing major nation. Hundreds of millions of Hindus need to know the Gospel. Knowing more about the Hindu faith will help Christians minister better to Hindus.

By Mark D. Harris

Out of the mists of the ancient past, without a face or a name, the ideas of reincarnation, caste, the cycle of lives, dharma, karma, and all that we know today as Hinduism emerged in the land between the Indus River and the Ganges plain. These concepts were contained in the sruti (revealed) texts such as the Vedas (Rig Veda, Sama Veda, Yajur Veda, and Atharva Veda), and the Upanishads (Vedanta). Alongside these sacred books arose the smrti (remembered) texts, including the Bhagavad Gita.

The above paragraph would suit many Hindu apologists but requires a bit more explanation. Hinduism is, indeed, a historical accretion of ideas that arose, mixed, and developed through the interactions of the native Dasyu peoples and the Indo-European Aryan immigrants in the second and first millennia BC. Scholars bicker about whether the Aryans invaded or migrated from the northwestern plains, but world historical experience from the Bantus in Africa to the Europeans in the New World 2,500 years later proves that invasion and migration often look the same. Hinduism has no known founder, unlike other world religions.

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Buddhism expansion

Discover Buddhism, a major world religion with almost 500 million adherents, especially in southeast Asia, China, and Japan. From its spread through India into China, Japan, and the rest of Asia, notably including World War II, Buddhism has shaped the world.

By Mark D. Harris

The sixth century BC was pivotal in the history of the world. Babylon conquered Jerusalem (597 and 586 BC), thus ending the Israelite monarchy. Mahavira (599-527), also known as Vardhamāna the 24th fordmaker, founded the Jain religion. In India, the Brahminic Vedas began to be replaced by the Upanishads, thus signaling a transition from a ritualist Brahmanism to a philosophical Hinduism. In China, Lao Tzu (604-521 BC) wrote the seminal tome, Tao te Ching (Book of the Way), combining earlier influences into a recognizable Taoism. Siddhartha Gautama (c. 563-483 BC) founded Buddhism, one of the most prevalent religions in the world.

Buddhism today boasts almost 500 million adherents worldwide. Many who would not consider themselves Buddhists per se practice Buddhist meditation and hold Buddhist beliefs without self-identifying with the religion. Gautama is variously known as the Sakyamuni (sage of the Sakyas), the Tathagata (enlightened One), and the Buddha (one who is awake). Any student of world religions should know something about the work of the Buddha. Christians should have an idea of what Buddhism is, and how to best minister to the followers of Gautama.

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Religions of the World

Religions of the World, Kabba in Mecca surrounded by Muslim pilgrims

The world is a pluralistic place, with thousands of religions and other belief systems (secular humanism, socialism, communism, “woke”) competing for the heart and mind of each person. These religions of the world impact us every day, whether we realize it of not. This class compares the fundamental tenets, history, and impact of the major religions and philosophies in the world today.

By Mark D. Harris


  1. To compare Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, smaller faiths (Sikh, Jain, Jewish, animism, Chinese religions, and paganism), and major secular belief systems with each other and with Christianity.
  2. To interest participants in religions of the world and other cultures.
  3. To help participants share the story of Christ with people in other cultures.

Duration – 4 weeks

Instructor – Mark D. Harris, PhD in World Religions, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS)


  1. Required – Religion and Art, Shaping the World for Christ
  2. Optional – Echoes of War: Religious Militancy in Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, and Christianity, OnlinePrint

Reasons to compare religions

  1. Allows people to rapidly understand differences and similarities between faith groups.
  2. Useful to understand cultures and actions of peoples throughout the world.

Objections to comparing religions

  1. Religions can be highly different between regions, localities, and even individual practitioners. It is difficult if not impossible to account for such differences.
  2. Assuming that each adherent believes the same thing and will do the same (or even similar) things is dangerous.
  3. Modern comparative religious study came out of colonial Europe and was used as a way to prove the superiority of Christianity. Therefore, it should not be used.

Approach in this class

  1. Rather than looking at how each individual practices his or her faith, we will characterize each faith as it is taught in its original, authoritative documents.
  2. Buddhism – Tipitaka (Sutta Pitaka, Angutara Pitaka, Nikaya Pitaka), a mention of some key sutras
  3. Hindu – Vedas, Ten Principal Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita
  4. Islam – Quran, Sahih al Bukhari
  5. Other (Sikh, Jain, and Jew) – Scriptures, Talmud


  1. Authorial intent – The meaning of a text is what the author meant to say. The reader’s task is to decipher it.
  2. Reader response – The meaning of a text is whatever the reading community believes it to say. The author’s intent has no relevance.
  3. This class uses a hermeneutic of authorial intent.
  4. Some think that “authorial intent” means “literal.” This is false. In Revelation 1:13-16, the author clearly intends the reader to understand his description of Jesus figuratively. That is how we should interpret it.

Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking with me. And after turning I saw seven golden lampstands; and in the middle of the lampstands I saw one like a son of man, clothed in a robe reaching to the feet, and wrapped around the chest with a golden sash. His head and His hair were white like white wool, like snow; and His eyes were like a flame of fire. His feet were like burnished bronze when it has been heated to a glow in a furnace, and His voice was like the sound of many waters. In His right hand He held seven stars, and out of His mouth came a sharp two-edged sword; and His face was like the sun shining in its strength.  

Four key questions for each religion

  1. What do you picture when you think about each religion?
  2. What are the basic tenets of each religion?
  3. What is the historical record for each religion?
  4. What is the impact of each religion? Numbers, geographic scope, historical importance, modern issues

Metanarratives are stories that attempt to explain reality. They are overarching explanations for existence, sin, redemption, meaning, and all the great questions in life. Every religion and philosophy promotes its own metanarrative, and rejects all others.

Religious adherents worldwide

  1. Christianity – 2.4 billion
  2. Islam – 1.9 billion (fastest growing, due to birth rates)
  3. Hindus – 1.2 billion
  4. Buddhists – 490 million
  5. Sikhs – 30 million
  6. Jews – 16 million
  7. Mormons – 16 million
  8. Jehovah’s Witnesses – 8 million
  9. Jains – 5 million


  • Founding
  • Life of Mohammad (AD 570-632)
  • Hijra – Muslim’s flight to Medina (AD 522)
  • Holy book – Quran
  • Hadith – Sahih al Bukhari, Sahih al Islam, both are highly regarded sources of truth
  • Biography
  1. Five pillars
      Shahada – One God Allah and Mohammad is his prophet, Salah – prayers (Fajr, Zuhr, Asr, Maghrib, and Isha), Zakat – taxes, alms, Sawm – fasting (Ramadan), Hajj – pilgrimage to Mecca)
  2. Unified secular and religious governance – The Caliph is the military and religious leader. All sources of temporal power belong to him.
  3. Umma – The community of Muslims
  4. Dhimmi – Any non-Muslim in a Muslim-dominated society
  5. Jizya – Taxes paid by non-Muslims to their Muslim government.
  6. Leaders – Rashidun (“rightly guided” caliphs) – Abu Bakr (AD 573-634)Umar (AD 582-644) Uthman (AD 573-656)Ali (AD 600 – 661)
  7. Jihad (quitab) – physical fighting and war
  8. History
  9. Present day


  1. Founding
  2. Holy books
      Vedas (1500 BC) – brahman rituals (transactional, Agni, Indra), Upanishads (300 BC) – philosophic, Bhagavat Gita (100 BC) – Bhakti (personal devotion)
  3. Polytheism – as many gods as you want (cf. Acts 17)
  4. The caste system
      Brahmin (priests, scholars), Kshatriya (warriors, administrators), Vaisha (farmers, merchants), Sudra (slaves, manual labor), Dalit (outside of system)
  5. Dharma – truth and duty
  6. Karma
  7. Samsara and moksha
  8. Monks
  9. Laity
  10. Daily practices
  11. Idols
  12. History
  13. Present day


  1. Founding
  2. Holy books (Tipitaka, Sutras in the Mahayana tradition)
  3. Four noble truths
      Dukkha (Suffering) – Life is full of suffering, sickness, unhappiness, and death.  Samudaya (Cause of Suffering) – People suffering for one simple reason: they desire things (physical items, people, and even personal existence. Nirodha (End of Suffering) – To extinguish desire. Magga (The Path) – The way to extinguish desire.
  4. Noble eightfold path
      Right understanding (Samma ditthi), Right thought (Samma sankappa), Right speech (Samma vaca), Right action (Samma kammanta), Right livelihood (Samma ajiva), Right effort (Samma vayama), Right mindfulness (Samma sati), Right concentration (Samma samadhi)
  5. Five precepts – don’t injure living, don’t steal, no sexual immorality, don’t lie, no intoxicants
  6. Triple refuge – Buddha, Dhamma, Sangha
  7. Three cardinal virtues – non-attachment, benevolence, understanding
  8. Three poisons – ignorance, hatred, delusion
  9. Four heavenly abodes – compassion, kindness, joy, peace
  10. Dhamma – truth, duty
  11. Karma – what you reap, you shall sow (primarily in subsequent lives)
  12. Samsara – the cycle of lives over the eons, including suffering (dukkha) and illusion (maya)
  13. Moksha – release from the cycle of samsara occasioned by good works.
  14. Sangha (monks (male – bhikkhu, female – bhikkhuni) – abstinence from sex, intoxicants, collects alms from lay Buddhists).
  15. Laity daily practices – vegetarian, no intoxicants, support monks, usually must be reborn as a bhikkhu before earning moksha.
  16. History
  17. Present day


  1. Founding – Guru Nanak Dev (1469-1538) lived in Punjab. He was dissatisfied with Hinduism and Islam and combined elements of both in his teachings. A series of Sikh gurus followed him until the Sikh holy book, Adi Granth, became the final, permanent guru (1708).
  2. Holy books – Guru Granth Sahib compiled by Gobind Singh (1666-1708), Adi Granth,
  3. True Name (Karta Purukh) – One eternal, self-existent God.
  4. Beliefs
      God has two nature, personal (saguna) and impersonal (Nirguna). Mankind is intrinsically good, with each person possessing a spark of divine light. Men and women are fully equal. Five principal vices – worldly attachment (moh), pride (ahankar), anger (krodh), lust (kam), and greed (lobh).
  5. Process of liberation
      Penetrating the wall of falsehood. Praising God and developing compassion through meditation. One’s soul being absorbed into the divine essence (sach khand)
  6. Distinctive beliefs
      Sikh army (Khalsa) – uncut hair (kesh), wooden comb (kangha), steel bracelet (kara), short sword (kirpan), and shorts (kachha). Men are given the surname Singh and women the surname Kaur. Khalsa initiation ritual Temple worship (gurdwara) – singing hymns (kirtan), meditation, readings from Granth Sahib. Dwali – festival of lights (like Hindu). Daily prayers (Nitnem). Five seats of authority (takhts). Battle of Muktsar (1705) – memory of 40 Sikhs killed when fighting Mughal Empire.
  7. History
  8. Present Day


  1. Founding – Abraham (c 1800 BC)
  2. Holy books
      Torah – first five books of the Bible, which were given in written and oral form by God to Moses on Mount Sinai. Tanach – all written Hebrew scriptures, including the Torah (law), Nevim (prophets), and Ketuvim (writings). It is known as Bible to Jews and Old Testament to Christians. Mishnah – written record of oral law which expanded into the Talmud. Talmud – A commentary on the Mishnah. A record of rabbinic debates on the Torah from the destruction of the Temple (AD 70) and of Judea (AD 135) to the fifth century.
  3. Divisions of Judaism – orthodox, conservative, reformed
  4. God – YHWH is one, personal, eternal, self-existent God.
  5. Salvation
      Original sin is denied in Reformed and Conservative traditions. Individual atonement comes from repenting, praying, and doing good works. Simply being Jewish guarantees that each Jew goes to heaven in the next life. The sufferings of all Jews justify each individual Jew.
  6. Common thread – the desire to maintain Jewish identity to keep the Jewish race alive.
  7. Distinctive beliefs
      Halaka – civil laws. Circumcision. Bar and Bat Mitvah. Star of David. Kabbalah – Jewish mysticism. The Holocaust – a defining period for modern Judaism. Zionism – the belief that Jews must have a homeland, and it must be in Palestine.
  8. Afterlife – heaven, reincarnation, torment, annihilation.
  9. History
  10. Present Day


  1. Founding – Jains claim that Jainism was founded 8.4 million years ago. Vardhamana (Mahavira, 599-527 BC) was a prince who left his palace at age 30 to begin 12 years of rigorous asceticism. He achieved perfect enlightenment, attracted many followers, and starved himself to death at age 72.
  2. Holy books (45 in six groupings) – Angas, Upangas, Pakinnakas, Chedas, Mulasutras, and Sutras
  3. Polytheism or atheism
  4. Beliefs
      All sentient beings are gods but are in spiritual bondage. Right perception, right knowledge, right conduct. Nonliving objects – space (akasa), time (kaal), matter (pudgala), motion (dharmastikay), and rest (adharmastikay). Three fundamental aspects of every entity in existence – origination (utpada), destruction (vyaya), permanence (dhrauvya). Cycle of time (kalchakra) – time has no beginning or end. Five kinds of benevolent beings (panch parameshthi) – supreme humans (arihantas), perfect souls (siddhas), master teachers (acharyas), scholarly monks (upadhyayas), ascetics (sadhus). Beliefs may be mistaken (anekantvada).
  5. Two main groups – Svetambara (white clad), digambara (sky clad, naked)
  6. Nature of existence
      Supreme abode – dwelling place of liberated souls. Upper world – abode of heavenly beings. Middle world – earth and visible universe. Nether world – seven hells. Nigoda – abode of the lowest forms of life. Universe space – clouds that envelop the upper world. Space beyond – an immeasurable realm without properties.
  7. Lifestyle
      Abandon all material possessions. Strictly vegetarian Non-violent (even insects)Daily prayer (namaskar mantra) with nine elements – to Arihantas, Siddhas, acharyas, upadhyayas, holy men, five obeisance, eradicate defilements, happiness, praise. Some ancient rulers in India became Jains to escape their lower castes and take power.
  8. Afterlife – the person is never again trapped in a physical body.
  9. History
  10. Present Day

Secular Humanism

  1. Founding – Early 20th century under the influence of the Enlightenment philosophers, Nietzsche, etc.
  2. Holy books – technically none, though the Communist Manifesto and Das Kapital are influential.
  3. God – atheistic or agnostic
  4. Salvation – no eternal life but rather annihilation. The only meaning in life is what each individual puts into it on this earth.
  5. Beliefs
      Free inquiry – individuals can pursue and promote anything they wish without resistance. Separation of Church and State – religious ideas (and often people) can have no part in governance. Ideal of freedom – democratic decision making, rights of minorities, rule of law. Ethics without resort to religion. Moral education without religion. Religious skepticism, since truth can only be known by scientific inquiry of the physical world. Reason – rational modes of inquiry include only logic, evidence, and empirical testing. Science and technology alone explore the world and lead to progress. Evolution. Education – free and compulsory. Rejects all metanarratives. There is no meaning in creation or life and no afterlife. Only the physical exists.
  6. Creation – none. The universe is self-existent, or an infinite number (multiverse) exist.
  7. Humanity – developed by chance with no external meaning. Cultural pluralism is objectively good. The belief in an afterlife is detrimental to achieving good in this life.
  8. The quest for social justice is foremost.
  9. Wokeism
      Opposed to free inquiry, democracy, reason, and science since these are legacies of the white, European, and American oppressors. Generally atheistic. Replaces Marxist class conflict with race conflict. The powerful are morally evil and oppress all others. There is no repentance since oppressing is the unpardonable sin. The powerful should never be believed. The weak are morally good and are oppressed. There is no need for repentance since being oppressed is the ultimate virtue. The oppressed should never be doubted.
  10. History
  11. Present Day


Reaching non-Christians with the message of Christ

  1. Interpersonal relationships
  2. Know your own faith very, very well.
  3. Live like Jesus
  4. None of these beliefs espouse a sinful nature in mankind. In every one, man is good albeit flawed. Therefore, no one is really in need of a savior. Christianity alone deals with the awful truth that every part of man is morally corrupt. He is dead in his sins, not sick, and needs a savior.
  5. Because man is hopeless in himself, he will never escape his brokenness. God alone, through Christ, can heal the broken. The worst news precedes the best.
  6. Focus on the gospel. The earthly work of Jesus is our greatest power. It is the ultimate good news.
  7. People are generally loved, not argued, into heaven. However, actions alone are insufficient. We must use words.
  8. Don’t get stuck on politics or on minutiae. Focus on what matters, which is Jesus Christ.
  9. Abraham religions emphasize holy texts while Indian religions emphasize experience.
  10. Be joyful. Cranky Christians are not convincing. They are also not obedient, and God promises us joy.